April 8, 2014
I’ve been recommending Exchange Server a while for 1MTD and MYN Outlook tasks users. That’s because by using Exchange Server with your Outlook desktop application, you can store and view your tasks (and contacts and calendar items) in the cloud. That means you can access MYN tasks and other data on all your computers and smartphones. But if you are an Outlook Desktop user without Exchange, there seems no easy way to go mobile with Outlook tasks. You could use Toodledo instead of Outlook for tasks; but tasks in Toodledo don’t show up in Outlook.
Well, it turns out there is an MYN suitable task server for Outlook desktop users that can serve your Outlook tasks into the cloud. That server is Outlook.com.
Outlook.com Tasks, Really?
Yes, the lowly tasks module built into the Calendar portion of Outlook.com can actually be used to store MYN tasks in the cloud, similar to Exchange, and it works with the current Outlook desktop application. (Thanks to reader Andy Gray for bringing this to my attention). Since it’s in the cloud, you can access those tasks from multiple devices. Ironically, you cannot manage the MYN tasks directly in Outlook.com, because the web interface there for tasks is so simple as to be unusable for 1MTD or MYN. But since you can use Outlook desktop and other apps to point to that server, you can accomplish full MYN task management quite well.
In a way, the Outlook.com server can serve as an all-round Exchange server replacement for consumer Outlook users. By connecting into the Outlook desktop application in a way similar to Exchange, you achieve multi-device cloud access through Outlook of not only your tasks but also your contacts and calendar, (and your Outlook.com e-mail of course). In a way this is Exchange for the rest of us, without the cost or hassle of Exchange.
As I said, (nearly) all the task functionality needed for MYN is present in this server. When accessed through Outlook desktop, these tasks have: priorities, start dates, due dates, reminders, categories, and notes. Like normal Outlook tasks, you can convert e-mails to these Outlook.com tasks in Outlook desktop by dragging and dropping the e-mail. And the To-Do Bar tasks list and Tasks folder in Outlook desktop will fully format for MYN with these tasks, just like when using Exchange (or local) tasks. Furthermore, select apps on Android and iOS can access the server to display and edit the tasks when away from your desk.
There are lots of caveats, however, compared to using Exchange Server (or locally stored Outlook data) with Outlook, and one or more of these caveats may prevent you from taking advantage of this.
First are the e-mail address issues. You will be using an Outlook.com address as your main e-mail address. While you can also load other (non-Exchange) e-mail accounts into Outlook desktop in this solution, the Outlook.com address becomes your primary Outlook desktop Inbox. That can be a good thing since many users say Outlook.com is better than Gmail and other Internet-based e-mail accounts; but of course it is a big deal to change e-mail addresses. And it’s my understanding that this works only if you have not applied a custom domain to your Outlook.com address—i.e., you are still using outlook.com domain in your email address.
There are several platform limitations. It appears 2013 is the only Outlook desktop application that Outlook.com will work with for MYN tasks. It does not look like the Mac Outlook 2011 version is a candidate, nor are earlier Windows versions of Outlook. In the mobile space, while Android has a very good app in this game, the iOS app choices are less than ideal, though iOS is better in some ways. And there are no apps for BlackBerry, Windows Phone 8, or Windows Store that I know of (with MYN sorting). All this is discussed below.
There are a number of task-feature limitations. The primary task-feature limitation is that you cannot include attachments on these tasks—the attachment button appears to work in Outlook desktop, but attachments just don’t get stored. Other less important task caveats are these: You only have two levels of task status (In Progress or Completed). The percent complete field doesn’t work. And all the fields under the Details tab in the Tasks window don’t work. Also, like Toodledo, html emails converted into tasks do not display as formatted messages in the body of the task—they show only as raw text. But other than attachments, none of those missing features I just listed are that important in 1MTD or MYN anyway.
If you can live with these caveats, you’re in. You now have a way to use the Outlook desktop application, and take your tasks mobile. Speaking of mobile, which mobile solutions work best for this Outlook.com tasks approach?
Android has the best mobile app for this Outlook.com cloud approach to tasks. It’s called Touchdown For Outlook.com. It has all the powerful features of Touchdown’s enterprise app (which I have been recommending for years for use with Exchange and MYN) including excellent mail and calendar clients. It can be configured to display MYN sorting of tasks. And it has the ability to convert e-mails to tasks—one that is rare for mobile apps.
Note however, the Touchdown app has e-mail and calendar modules that you use instead of the Google e-mail and calendar apps on your Android device. You could ignore those modules in Touchdown and then connect the built in Google-Android Email app and Calendar apps to outlook.com by setting them up as you would Exchange (but using m.hotmail.com in the server field).
If you want to use Touchdown for Outlook.com with MYN tasks, my Touchdown configuration instructions here should help give you clues on how to do that.
[July 2015 Update: it appears that Touchdown for Outlook.com is not being updated by Symantec--it's last update is March 2014. So keep that in mind]
There is also an Android app called Outlook.com made by Microsoft. But while it’s good for Outlook.com mail, it only accesses mail, not the other Outlook.com modules. So it’s not an option for MYN tasks.
iPhone and iPad Solutions
iOS app options are not as good as the Android ones with Outlook.com, but in some ways iOS is actually the better way to go. iOS is worse because there is no app that fully displays the MYN sorting of those tasks served from Outlook.com. But iOS is perhaps the better solution because, once you point to Outlook.com as your mail server in iOS Settings, the built-in iOS mail, calendar, and reminders functions all become clients to the Outlook.com servers. This means you can take advantage of all cross-app linking of these built-in iOS modules.
That said, the built-in iOS Reminders app is still a pretty crumby tasks app, but at least all your Outlook.com and Outlook tasks will load there by default. And you can use Siri to add tasks to Reminders; once added they’ll show up correctly in the Outlook.com database, and then in Outlook desktop. For example tell Siri: “set reminder for today at 8 pm to Write Progress Report” and it will create a Write Progress Report task in your Outlook 2013 desktop To-Do Bar with today as the start date—ready for MYN use.
As to third-party iOS apps, the trick with choosing one for use with Outlook.com is to find an app that both works with the Reminders database and sorts for MYN. Unfortunately, I’ve found none that will do both. The Pocket Informant iOS app comes closest. It can be set to point to Reminders, but the sorting has one flaw: you cannot reverse sort start dates within priority groups. It does all other MYN sorting and filtering correctly (once configured) so at least you can mostly use it. And since you can see your MYN High priority tasks at the top of the list, (and edit tasks and enter new tasks), it may be good enough. Drop a note to the Pocket Informant makers asking them to “add second level task sorting with reverse start date” and maybe they’ll decide to add that feature.
By the way, when I tried it, the TaskTask app did not connect successfully to Outlook.com tasks. The developer said they’ll see if there is a way to modify the software in the future to help us with that.
Other Mobile Solutions
I don’t know of a Windows 8 Phone solution. No Windows Store app either (the TaskTask Windows Store app doesn’t connect). [update: commenter below says app "2Day" works for both of these]. One way to access other platforms, including a Windows 8 tablet and the Mac, is to install an Android emulator and then install Touchdown For Outlook.com within it, and then configure Touchdown for Outlook.com. I tested this with the BlueStacks emulator on a Windows 8 tablet, and it worked pretty well.
Configuring Outlook for Outlook.com
As I said, Outlook 2013 appears to be the only Outlook desktop application that can connect to Outlook.com tasks. Other versions of Outlook desktop application can connect to Outlook.com (using the Hotmail/Outlook.com connector), but they don’t connect to tasks, which is our main goal here. The other Windows versions can pick up Outlook.com’s mail, people, and calendar data though, which can still make this a useful Exchange replacement if you don’t need tasks; so if you have an older Windows Outlook client, and that’s of interest to you, follow these instructions. And Outlook for Mac 2011 can pick up Outlook.com mail (only). So, all that said, for tasks you’ll need Outlook 2013—and I show you how to configure that next.
Outlook 2013 Steps
The steps to configure an Outlook.com account on Outlook 2013 are similar to setting Outlook 2013 up for Exchange, but with a couple tweaks. Here are the steps:
- First, if you just want to test this using your primary computer, and retain your existing Outlook 2013 account settings there, create a new Outlook profile for your test. Otherwise skip to Step 2. Here’s how to create a new profile: Quit Outlook, go to Control Panel, search for Mail, open it, click Show Profiles, click Add, type in the new profile name (say, Outlook.com), a new account window opens. Now skip to Step 3.
- For those not setting up a new profile, in Outlook 2013 click File tab, then Account Settings, then Account Settings. Activate the E-mail tab. Remove any Exchange accounts you have there (Outlook always favors Exchange accounts for tasks). Click New.
- In the New Account window click the button at bottom that says Manual Setup or Additional Server Types.
- In the next window select the second choice: Outlook.com or Exchange ActiveSync Compatible Service.
- Starting in the middle of the Server Settings window, first set the Mail Server to m.hotmail.com.
- Then, enter your full outlook.com email address, password, and then put anything you want in the Your Name field at the top (that’s what shows in the From column when people get your mail). Click Next.
- If you set up a new profile as in step 1, when you get back to the Profiles window, make sure to select Prompt for a Profile to be Used; and then close the Profiles window by clicking OK. Then start Outlook and select your new profile in the prompt that appears when the Outlook application starts up.
That’s it. You should see your Outlook.com e-mail in the Inbox, and you should see your Outlook.com tasks in the To-Do Bar tasks list. Try entering some tasks and confirm they sync between Outlook and the Outlook.com Tasks window (you find that in the Outlook.com Calendar).
I am delighted there is now a way for Outlook desktop users, users who don’t use Exchange Server, to put MYN tasks in the cloud. I am a bit embarrassed that it took me this long to find that method, but better late than never. I only tested all this a little bit, and only just recently, so I am sure I overlooked something. If you start using it and find other insights that I did not mention in this article (or corrections), add them in the comments section below.